Archive for October, 2009

From Fuel Withington

October 30, 2009

Rushed notes from what is rapidly becoming my local. My broadband is still fucked and I’m working most days at JLB Credit. In the evenings I’m writing a story. It’s one of those long stories that’s been going around in my head for a while; now it’s being written it is threatening to turn into a novella.

So this is just a quick update on recent articles (I know you have all missed me terribly). I reviewed Robert Crumb’s Book of Genesis: All 50 Chapters at 3:AM magazine and wrote about the Medialens book, also at 3:AM. There’s a response from Medialens which reads pretty much how you’d expect.

Right now I’m relaxing with a few beers. Happy Hallowe’en everybody and I will be back as soon as I sort out these IT problems.

Addicted to the Twenty-First Century

October 20, 2009

My review of Douglas Coupland’s Generation A is now available at 3:AM.

Broadband fun

October 20, 2009

I’m writing this in Withington library as my broadband’s dead. It’s not a phone issue, it’s some problem with my laptop and it looks like I’m going to have to get a new one. I’m not sure when I can get the cash together for this and I am back on full time work now. The rate of posting, already sporadic, will grow sketchier still. I will have a crack at posting some reviews this week but apart from that, don’t expect much from here.

The reality of white terror

October 16, 2009

Johann Hari has an essential piece on British fascism. You need to read it all but these are the main points.

There is a terror threat from white British males that is on a level with the Islamist version. The police are incredibly worried about this, they take it seriously, they know there are people in this country talking about race wars on web forums. They have caught people with explosives, often by chance. Hari: ‘The West Yorkshire Police recently launched a huge series of raids against far-right groups and found them in possession of 80 bombs – considerably more even than any jihadi group has been caught with in British history.’ White fascists are as great a threat to British civilians as Al-Qaeda. 

Despite many arrests, the issue of white fascist terror doesn’t get nearly as much attention from the mainstream media as Asian Islamist terror. It’s hard to believe there is no element of bigotry in this.  

There is what Hari calls a ‘perception gap’ between the conventional view of the twenty-first century BNP and its reality. The conventional view expressed by many in newspapers, on streets and at dinner parties is that the BNP is merely a fringe reaction to ‘uncontrolled immigration’ and ‘political correctness’. In reality, it is a criminal gang of supremacist ideologues.

Hari points out that many on the left have paved the way for this with their ‘understanding’ approach to Islamist terror (seeing it as a natural response to Western foreign policy and nineteenth-century imperialism). He could have added that many conservatives have mirrored this stupidity when it comes to the BNP and its supporters (seeing their racism as a natural response to immigration/political correctness/Zionists/Diversity winning Britain’s Got Talent). This sin is compounded by the conspiratorial rhetoric and outrageous lies about immigration and multiculturalism you see in the conservative tabloids and also in the writing of some respected conservative intellectuals.

The Week In Snapshots

October 15, 2009

First thing you see is the smoking shelter by the trees. The Ten O’Clock People are one of the world’s signature sights. Whatever the weather, in any country on the planet, come the end of time and against boiling skies there will still be knots and clutches of men and women in cheap suits and plastic IDs slung round their necks smoking cigarettes by wall-mounted metal ashtrays.

What is this? Yes, I’m back at work. It is almost two weeks now and I’m getting into my stride. Reading review books on the train, banging out timesheets, swiping the doors like I’ve never been away. It’s a busy time. Days and nights click and ratchet past in shutters of black and white, like early filmreels, like the window view of a train rocketing through a forgotten platform.

Still, moments stand out. First smoke of the day, at six in the am, in my garden under last night’s stars. I looked through the window as we were cruising across the flyaway and I felt afraid for a second. Then I forgot it. I’ve had ‘Daysleeper,’ by REM, in my head: I’m the screen. I’m the screen. I work at night… And something else; an amazing poem by Stephen Dobyns, called ‘Pursuit’.

I love Dobyns because his poems are like stories with rhythm. I think this one is worth quoting in full; it seems to encapsulate and universalise a feeling I never thought anyone else possessed.

Each thing I do I rush through so I can do
something else. In such a way do the days pass –
a blend of stock car racing and the never
ending building of a gothic cathedral.
Through the windows of my speeding car, I see
all that I love falling away: books unread,
jokes untold, landscapes unvisited. And why?
What treasure do I expect in my future?
Rather it is the confusion of childhood
loping behind me, the chaos in the mind,
the failure chipping away at each success.
Glancing over my shoulder I see its shape
and so move forward, as someone in the woods
at night might hear the sound of approaching feet
and stop to listen, then, instead of silence
he hears some creature trying to be silent.
What else can he do but run? Rushing blindly
down the path, stumbling, struck in the face by sticks;
the other ever closer, yet not really
hurrying or out of breath, teasing its kill. 

It no longer matters what they think

October 15, 2009

The Obama administration has adopted an aggressive policy towards the increasingly deranged Fox News, with spokesperson Anita Dunn describing the channel as ‘the research arm or the communications arm of the Republican party’.

She went on to say this:

If we went back a year ago to the fall of 2008, to the campaign, that was a time this country was in two wars that we had a financial collapse probably more significant than any financial collapse since the Great Depression. If you were a Fox News viewer in the fall election what you would have seen were that the biggest stories and the biggest threats facing America were a guy named Bill Ayers and a something called ACORN.

Guardian US correspondent Michael Tomasky explains why this was the right decision.

Fox will make a crusade out of this, in the way that McGreal describes Glenn Beck and Bill O’Reilly as doing. But who cares what Beck and O’Reilly say, beyond the universe of people who are already proven to care what they say? Nobody. They have their 2 or 3 million viewers. Fine. Bully for them. The other 307 million Americans are busy doing other things.

News junkies constantly overestimate cable television’s reach and influence. Always remember: If Fox were that powerful, we’d be watching President McCain calling the shots.

Exactly. Compromise with the rightwing media never works because you can never compromise enough. Nothing will ever satisfy these people.

The UK also has a reactionary media with massive delusions of relevance. If Labour had taken Obama’s attitude in ’97, imagine what a great country we could be living in today.


(Image via 44Diaries)

A world, and a mirror of worlds

October 13, 2009

My review of Terry Pratchett‘s latest is now available at 3:AM.

From This Angle

October 11, 2009

Conservapedia is not a site I regularly visit. I’m assuming it’s some rightwing trainspotters’ club like Biased BBC, Samizdata and the Taxpayers’ Alliance. Apparently, the site have started the Conservative Bible Project, which aims to ‘counteract the liberal bias that appears in current translations.’ According to Carrie Quinlan, there are ’10 guidelines for deliberalising the text, which include avoiding unisex terms, accepting the logic of hell, and expressing free market parables.’

The site has also literalised biblical language:

They’ve only just started on the translation, but to take an example at random, John 1:25 in the King James Version reads:

And Jesus rebuked him, saying, Hold thy peace, and come out of him.

The Conservapedia version is:

Jesus then rebuked the evil spirit, ‘Shut up and depart from him.’

What’s ‘go forth and multiply’? Or shouldn’t I ask?

You could have loads of fun with this and perhaps make a tired profundity about the interpretations of sacred text. Yet it strikes me that some on the progressive left approach holy books with the same selectivity but from a different angle. Sitting up with the Quran or the King James, quotemining, annotating and contextualising in a desperate search for a liberal narrative that isn’t actually there. And this in a time when there is so much enlightenment and beauty in the written word as a whole: in novels, plays, books on history and philosophy, films and art. In a place flowing with food and wine they tease nutrients from stones.

Paragraph of the year

October 11, 2009

The other week David Hockney coined the term ‘professional anti-smoker’. He was describing ASH media face Deborah Arnott, but I think the definition can be extended.

Professional anti-smokers can be found way outside the smoking debate. They are active in local government, in private industry, in academia, in the emergency services and the arts. They can be found across the political spectrum and in all walks of life. In any organisation, they tend to rise instantly to a minor supervisory role, and stay there until they retire. They don’t have much going on in their lives, and are happiest when dominating a long, boring meeting, or writing an indignant letter to the local paper. They dedicate vast amounts of energy and time to trivial causes that they inflate to life-and-death importance. (Smoking, of course, is what everyone’s worried about in 2009.) They are not creative or destructive, they don’t leave legacies, they aren’t well remembered but they do, in some indefinable way, stain the life of everyone they come into contact with. They are the people that Sartre called ‘smug little bastards’. You have met them.

Which brings me to Duncan Bannatyne’s piece on CiF. Money quote:

In my view smokers who currently stand outside a pub or restaurant having a fag should have to stand at least several yards away from the front door, to save the 79% of us who don’t smoke from breathing in their smoke when we go in or out. We should curtail the rights of the 21% and increase their responsibilities towards the 79%. In other words, we should stop them killing us and our children.

Emphasis is, of course, mine.


The Lives Of Others

October 10, 2009

nokiaReading this excellent CiF article on contemporary Iranian art, I notice that much of the posted examples involve plays on the Nokia Siemens Networks communications company’s logos and marketing strategies in the classic No Logo era ‘subvertisement’ style.

Here’s why. Nokia Siemens recently opened a network in Iran. Naturally, the regime has been using this to track and target dissidents. Released prisoners claim that they’ve been incarcerated on the basis of phone and text archive. Protestors also say that the deal could have been done without this monitoring function. 

This is an Iranian reporter who has just been released from prison:

I always had this impression that monitoring calls is just a rumour for threatening us from continuing our job properly, but the nightmare became real when they had my phone calls – conversations in my case.

And the most unbelievable thing for me is that Nokia sold this system to our government. It would be a reasonable excuse for Nokia if they had sold the monitoring technology to a democratic country for controlling child abuse or other uses, but selling it to the Iranian government with a very clear background of human rights violence and suppression of dissent, it’s just inexcusable for me. I’d like to tell Nokia that I’m tortured because they had sold this damn technology to our government.

Nokia Siemens is just one victim of an encouraging grassroots boycott. Iranians are boycotting various businesses connected to the regime, from state banks to products advertised on Press TV. As for Nokia itself, a Tehran mobile phone seller told the Guardian that: ‘there is half the demand for Nokia’s product these days in comparison with just one month ago, and it’s really unprecedented. People feel ashamed of having Nokia cellphones’.

I’m wondering if the same people so keen about boycotting goods made in democratic countries will invest the same amount of time and energy into campaigning for the boycott of a corporation that sells surveillance technologies to a theocratic dictatorship.